Pasha Kovalev’s former teacher has revealed the struggles he faced to find fame on Strictly
Rachel Riley’s new husband Pasha Kovalev had to ‘work like a slave’ to find fame and fortune on the dancefloors of Strictly, his former teacher has revealed.
Irina Gabdarakhmanova described how young Pasha was separated from his impoverished parents aged 13 and taken to a bootcamp in Siberia where he was forced to train for 12 hours a day.
Explaining how she turned him into a star Ms Gabdarakhmanova told MailOnline: ‘For me, Pasha was mediocre dancer. I saw all his deficiencies, although he was very hard-working.
‘I had no special criteria selecting my dancers. I got these children from the street. My system was one of survival.’
She added: ‘My students were very poor, actually slaves. They had no money. There was a time when we had literally no cash for food and we sold our jeans at the market, to buy dancing shoes.
‘It was a hard time. They worked like mad. If they did not work all the hours God sent, the day passed in vain. If not for my way, they may not have uncovered the potential inside them.’
Pasha (pictured) was taken thousands of miles and five time zones to the remote city of Kemerovo, where he was subjected to a gruelling regime under a tyrannical coach
The dancer later ran away to Moscow with fellow Strictly star Anya Garnis (both pictured right). They moved to the US and landed places on reality show So You Think You Can Dance, before fame beckoned in Britain
Pasha grew up in deprivation with his impoverished parents Galina (left) and Sergei (right) in the industrial outpost of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, close to the Chinese border in Siberia
Kovalev, 39, who wed Countdown presenter Riley in a secret ceremony in Las Vegas on Friday, grew up in deprivation in the industrial outpost of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, close to the Chinese border in Siberia.
He was taken thousands of miles and five time zones to the remote city of Kemerovo, where he was subjected to a gruelling regime under a tyrannical coach.
The future star later ran away to Moscow with fellow Strictly star Anya Garnis. They made their way to the United States where they landed places on the reality show So You Think You Can Dance, before fame beckoned in Britain.
The extraordinary story of the hunky dancer’s early life comes as he was pictured strolling through London Heathrow with his pregnant wife following their top secret wedding in Sin City.
His ex-coach Irina Gabdarakhmanova (above) says Pasha was plucked from his family aged 13 and taken to a Siberian bootcamp then forced to train for 12 hours a day
But his long journey to stardom began when he was spotted in his impoverished hometown by eccentric dance coach. The young Kovalev was part of a 12-strong troupe she ‘plucked from the street’ in 1993, in a bizarre experiment to see if she could mould champions with a relentless programme of ‘hard labour’ in a dance boot camp, using methods that ‘would be banned in Britain’.
The children were forced to dance from the early morning until past midnight and only allowed to visit their parents once a year.
‘It was true experiment, and my strict methods worked,’ Gabdarakhmanova added.
Natalia Utkina, 35, another member of the troupe which performed shows all over Russia to pay for their training, recalled: ‘We were children living without parents. Irina was very strict with us. She was tough in all ways. We were like squaddies.
‘She demanded unquestioning obedience. When she scolded us, there were no parents to take pity. But she gave us such strength, she was very gifted.’
The dancer added: ‘She said there were only two reasons to miss training: sickness with a high fever, or death.’
Kovalev and his fellow students saw dancing as a way out of 1990s Russia, an era of hyperinflation and social chaos which saw the former USSR sliding into the hands of the mafia.
Pasha married Countdown host Rachel Riley in Las Vegas, keeping the ceremony ‘so secret’ that the majority of their friends and family are said to have been unaware of the nuptials
The happy couple were pictured together for the first time on Monday after they secretly married in Sin City on Friday after meeting and falling in love on Strictly
His schoolteacher in Kemerovo, Galina Pryadkina, said: ‘As children, Pasha was deprived in many ways. He lived alone here miles from home with no parental love.
‘The children cooked for themselves and washed their own clothes. They had to fend for themselves.’
The former teacher added: ‘They worked like slaves, sometimes only leaving their dance studio at midnight, and then came for back for more training early in the morning. They trained relentlessly all through weekends and summer holidays.
‘Pasha lived a very closed life here in Kemerovo because he had no time for other things. We worried that this load would damage his health.’
Kovalev began dating Anya Garnis when he was 17 and she was about 15 or 16. Shortly afterwards they absconded, running away to Moscow and later to the United States.
In his pursuit of fame and fortune, Pasha moved thousands of miles from his parents across five time zones to the remote city of Kemerovo, where he was subjected to a tough regime
Of his dogged determination to succeed, the dancer’s former coach added: ‘For me, Pasha was mediocre dancer. I saw all his deficiencies, although he was very hard-working’
Their tyrannical coach was ‘full of indignation’ when she found out. But now, she looks back with a sense of pride.
‘Of course, they started looking for their own way in the world and eventually found success in America before going to Britain,’ Gabdarakhmanova said.
‘They needed the glory which I had given them, and the reaction of audiences. I taught them – my children – to win standing ovations and to see tears in the eyes of their audiences.
‘They became independent and learned how to make their own decisions. They became very modest, because they understood that everything could be achieved only by hard labour.’
She added: ‘I’m really proud of them. The fact that I have had such students like Pasha and Anya who are admired in Britain proves my system works. I lived dancing. I love dancing. I lived by these kids. It was my life.’